WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor announced today that impact inspections completed by its Mine Safety and Health Administration at 18 mines in 12 states in June 2023 led the agency to issue 242 violations. The agency began impact inspections after the deaths of 29 miners in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in April 2010, one of the deadliest in U.S. history.
To date, MSHA’s impact inspections in 2023 have identified 1,435 violations, including 411 significant and substantial and 22 unwarrantable failure findings. An S&S violation is reasonably likely to cause a reasonably serious injury or illness. Violations designated as unwarrantable failures occur when an inspector finds aggravated conduct that constitutes more than ordinary negligence.
The agency conducts impact inspections at mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to poor compliance history; previous accidents, injuries, and illnesses; and other compliance concerns. Among the 242 violations MSHA issued in June, the agency evaluated 71 as S&S and found four to have unwarrantable failure findings. The inspections included mines in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
“The Mine Safety and Health Administration remains troubled by the fact that our impact inspections continue to discover the same hazards we’ve identified as root causes for fatal accidents and that we know can cause serious occupational illnesses,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “Mine operators are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment; this includes controlling miners’ exposure to health hazards like silica, preventing safety hazards such as unsafe electrical equipment and potential slips, trips and falls, and ensuring adequate workplace examinations and training.”
Two of the inspections in June provide examples of some of the hazards miners face.
On June 6, MSHA conducted an impact inspection at Kentucky Fuel Corp.’s WV-3 Surface Mine in Logan County, West Virginia, due to enforcement history and receiving hazardous condition complaints. MSHA issued 42 violations to the mine operator, including 17 S&S and 3 unwarrantable failure findings, including an unwarrantable failure order for aggravated conduct for failing to maintain effective dust-control measures on a drill.
Drill operators face heightened risk of exposure to respirable crystalline silica, a carcinogen far more toxic than coal dust alone. Exposure to unhealthy levels of silica can lead to debilitating and deadly work-related illnesses such as silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and progressive massive fibrosis. On June 30, 2023, MSHA announced proposed amendments to current federal standards to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards related to exposure to silica dust, and in June 2022 began a silica enforcement initiative.
MSHA also issued unwarrantable failure orders for safety defects found on haul equipment, including defective emergency steering, damaged tires, significant oil leaks and a defective back-up alarm. Inspectors learned several of these items were recorded and reported to the mine’s management for days on pre-operational examinations.
Historically, accidents involving powered haulage in the mining industry have been a leading cause of fatal workplace injuries. By law, operators must correct these conditions on haul trucks before the equipment is used. MSHA has cited Kentucky Fuel Corp. 13 times in the last two years for similar violations.
At the Superior Silica Sands LLC mine in San Antonio, Texas, MSHA conducted an inspection on June 21 and issued 31 violations, 10 of which were found to be S&S. The citations included violations for the following:
Unsafe electrical equipment and cables, inadequate workplace examinations, exposed moving machine parts, slip, trip and fall hazards, and inadequate training.
Allowing truck drivers to operate vehicles near high-voltage power lines. Three industry workers have suffered fatal injuries in 2023 when their mobile equipment made contact with overhead power lines, leading MSHA to issue electrical safety alerts to raise awareness.
Learn more about MSHA.